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A haunting coming-of-age graphic novel

Home After Dark 

The fascination and demand for coming-of-age stories is seemingly inexhaustible, no matter how old, no matter how many stories have been told. With each, perhaps we strive to see a different perspective, to help us understand the struggles that remind us of our own journey. While each, every story can be a little bit different, but also can be a bit of the same. 

David's Small graphical novel Home After Dark tackles the story from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt. His family life isn't as peachy as something you'd see on an episode of the Wonder Years. His parents are constantly bickering and drinking, an observation Russell makes as he's eavesdropping in the dark shadows. That isn't the first reference to a web of darkness that weaves over plot and permeates Russell's life. 

Home After Dark by David Small, ironically begins with an illustration of a boy starring at a beautifully decorated Christmas Tree. It's a picture perfect setting that leads you to believe that this is a happy home, and the setting of the novel takes place in happier times. But, things aren't always what they seem. And bit by bit, we are transported into the convoluted web that is to be come of Russell's world.

Russell's mom ends up running away with his dad's best friend, and Russell's dad who's running out of his compensation from his stint in Korea, decides that he's going to move himself and Russell to California, where his sister lives. Complications abound as Russel's dad asks for permission to live with his sister; a father who doesn't know his son's age isn't exactly close to his progeny. 

Arriving in Pasadena, at Aunt June's lovely abode, seems like they have hit the lottery. But Aunt June is a prickly shrewd cactus, and doesn't sugarcoat anything when she makes it clear that they are not welcome there, even citing that Russell's dad will not be able to find a job. 

"This is southern California. 
Real estate is going nuts, Mike. Let's face it. 
You can't afford to live here. 
You need to go north. 
Around San Francisco. 
That's where all the jobs are."

Turns out that Aunt June was wrong. They still weren't home when they arrived in San Francisco, as Russell's dad came to the realization that there were no jobs there either. So, they had to keep going north and further inland, ending up in a little town called Marshfield. 

Sometimes you dream of a better beginning, and other times, the haunting reality sets in. What follows is more darkness as Russell adapts to new people, new cultures, and a renewed understanding of who he really is, and how he fits into the world that is prejudiced and unwelcoming. 

No two people's experiences are the same, and some teenagers don't have a cookie cutter life as David Small aptly illustrates in Home After Dark. The entire book is about Russell, trying to get home to a safer place. But the journey is dark. He has to deal with a lot of issues along the way. Starting off with the darkness of being trapped in a family whose parents are constantly arguing and drinking. Dealing with a troubled dad, and moving to a new town. Trying to fit in as an awkward teenager. And, coming into his own sexual identity, but being ashamed to face the repercussions from his peers. 

Home After Dark by David Small is a graphical novel that is especially raw, and courtesy of its format it succeeds in packing a punch without the grey of subtlety. The setting of the book is 1950s America, where prejudices about race, colour and sexual orientation are abundant, and it's an especially hard time for someone who doesn't belong to adapt. 

The illustrations in the graphic novel are spot on, emotive and visually stunning. The art tells the story with its captive grayscale visuals. There is very little inclusion of words and dialogue in Home After Dark. This speaks to the author's extraordinary talent, David Small is able to create a complex story, with a rhythmic simplicity.

In line with the theme of darkness, there are a lot of issues tackled in one graphic novel, from understanding one's world and adapting to it, to dealing with the consequences of stepping out of your comfort zone. But the author of the bestselling book Stitches, David Small has undeniably done a brilliant job of creating something that is insightful and will be relatable to a new generation of readers who take a look back to moment in history. 

Blog Post by Shilpa Raikar, who believes in the power of storytelling to connect readers, and strives for diversity and inclusivity. 

Home After Dark by Sara Barnard is published by McClelland & Stewart. Copy provided by Penguin Random House Canada

Review by @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle)